Amid mounting calls for President Trump’s impeachment over his July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump met face-to-face with Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters and flanked by Zelensky, Trump sought to deflect questions about the call in which he repeatedly urged Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
"He's very, very strongly looking into all sorts of corruption," Trump said before trying to steer the discussion to claims about the former vice president. "When Biden's son walks away with millions of dollars from Ukraine and he knows nothing, and they're paying him millions of dollars, that's corruption."
Hunter Biden served until earlier this year on the board of a Ukrainian energy company and was paid a reported $50,000 monthly salary.
Biden, as vice president, led diplomatic efforts to end corruption in Ukraine, including lobbying for the removal of State Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, widely regarded by both U.S. and Western European governments as corrupt himself. Shokin had investigated the company that employed Hunter Biden, but the investigation had ended without charges before the vice president’s involvement, and there is no evidence — although Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani claims to possess it — that Joe Biden was intervening to help his son.
Asked by reporters whether he felt pressured by Trump to investigate Biden, Zelensky said, "I think you read everything. So I think you read text. I'm sorry but I don't want to be involved to democratic open elections of USA. I think we had good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. I think, and you read it, nobody pushed me.”
“In other words, no pressure,” Trump replied.
Earlier Wednesday, the White House released a memo summarizing the controversial July 25 call. According to the memo, Trump raised the issue of Biden after he and Zelensky discussed U.S. support for Ukraine.
“I would like you to do us a favor,” Trump told Zelensky before asking him to look into both Biden and his son and for Ukraine’s help investigating the 2016 hacking of a Democratic National Committee server.
At the time of the call, much-needed U.S. military aid for Ukraine had been held up for unexplained reasons, reportedly at the request of the White House.
Trump suggested Zelensky work with Giuliani and with Attorney General William Barr. Giuliani had separately pressed Ukrainian officials for a Biden inquiry.
“I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people, and I would like you to get to the bottom of it,” Trump said, according to the White House memo.
The call is reportedly part of a whistleblower’s complaint against Trump, which led to more Democratic calls for his impeachment.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acceded to mounting pressure from her caucus, announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump's behavior.
"The president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically," Pelosi said. "The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections."
"The president must be held accountable," Pelosi added. "No one is above the law."
Trump responded to a question about the impeachment inquiry by implying he no longer intended to deal with Pelosi as the head of another branch of government. “Nancy Pelosi, as far as I’m concerned, unfortunately she’s no longer the speaker of the House,” Trump said.
Trump also expressed the belief that emails erased from a server belonging to his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, might still exist in Ukraine. During the campaign, Trump asked for help from Russia in tracking down the emails. The memo of his call with Zelensky shows Trump asking about an email server and CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that helped investigate the 2016 hack into the Democratic National Committee. Trump has said previously the company was owned by a rich Ukrainian, but the California-based company’s IPO filing says that the biggest shareholders are American venture-capital backers.
“With regards to our investigation of the DNC hack in 2016, we provided all forensic evidence and analysis to the FBI,” a CrowdStrike spokesperson said in a statement. “As we’ve stated before, we stand by our findings and conclusions that have been fully supported by the U.S. Intelligence community.”
Trump reminisced Wednesday about his ownership of the Miss Universe pageant, noting that one of the winners was Ukrainian.
Zelensky brought up the annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and said he would like help from the United States in reclaiming the region. Trump responded that the invasion took place during "a different administration, not during the Trump administration."
"That was during the Obama administration that you lost Crimea," Trump said. "I think it was handled poorly."
The United States under President Obama and its allies responded to the annexation by imposing sanctions on Russia and expelling it from the G-7 group of developed nations. The Trump administration has sought to weaken the sanctions, and in August Trump urged that Russia be invited back into the G-7.
But Trump told Zelensky that the defensive aid package he approved for Ukraine was bigger than Obama's.
"I gave you antitank busters," Trump said. "Frankly, President Obama was sending you pillows."
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